Friday, September 30, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 869: The thrill is gone


SH: I used to be romantic.

Me: I know. I remember.

SH: I used to bring you flowers.

Me: I used to shower every day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 672: Sock it to me


What I put on facebook:

I found some emails from when SH and I were dating. How quickly we go from "I long to be by your side" to "Did you wash my socks?


What SH had to say:

SH: I never complain to you about my socks!

Me: That's not a complaint, that's asking.

SH: But I don't!

Me: You do so. You ask where your socks are and accuse me of hiding them when more than once, they have been right there in the drawer and you just didn't look.

SH: But you don't do it right. Sometimes, you wash just one sock and the other one is missing.

Me: It shows up in the end.

SH: When I wash socks, I check them at every step in the process to make sure that each sock has a mate. I check when I put them in the washer, when I take them out of the washer, and when I take them out of the dryer.

Me: Fine. If you want to be in charge of washing your socks so it can be done properly, that's OK with me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 213: Stay thirsty, my friends


One of the advantages of marriage is that you get to observe men in captivity.*

I had not lived with a man for many years when SH and I married.** I had a male housemate for a year when I lived in Chile, but he was a quiet guy who kept to himself and did what I told him to do, which made him the ideal housemate.

When I was a kid, my brother and my dad were in the same house, but I had known them all my life and didn't have a baseline. I thought that anything they did was normal male behavior. And in my brother's defense, a bedroom that is a complete mess and has that Farrah Fawcett poster is probably pretty normal teenage male behavior.

Now, having lived on my own for most of my adult life and having figured out the right way to do things, I have thrown a major wrench in the works by marrying someone who is as convinced of the rightness of his cause as I am and who won't just do what I tell him.

What this means is that when his quirks are not making me crazy, SH is a fascinating case study. I feel like I'm an anthropologist, embedded with the subject, observing his ways so I can write an amazing paper to present at the next conference.

I have already documented some of SH's quirks here: his hoarding of old phone bills, his constant attempts to square off the decorative pillows on the bed even though I want them casually tossed against the headboard with a nonchalant je ne sais quois, his freakiness about putting away dishes that might have a drop or two of water on them, and his obsessiveness about the knives.

But here's a new one that makes no sense to me at all. I know he's an OCD engineer who has to stack all his junk neatly (instead of throwing it away), which explains the Leaning Tower of Visa, which I must admit has paid off on the two or three occasions that we actually have needed a credit card receipt from three years ago and which explains the knives and the silverware and the pillows.

But I don't know why he always goes to the bathroom to get a drink of water.

Even when he is in the kitchen, right next to the sink, with the glasses in the cupboard to the left of the sink, so he would not even have to move to 1. get a glass and 2. turn on the tap to fill it, he will walk to the bathroom instead to drink bathroom water from the bathroom water glass, which lives in the bathroom for two or three days before I switch it for a clean one and which gets SH toothpaste tracks on it because he does not spit before he drinks. Which is why I do not drink from this glass. I will kiss him, but I will not share his bathroom water glass.

Let's review:

Option 1: No moving, clean glass, kitchen tap water

Option 2: Walk out of the kitchen, across the hall and into the bathroom, not so clean glass, bathroom tap water.

His explanation?

It tastes better.

I maintain that as the bathroom and the kitchen tap have the same source that the water cannot possibly taste different. Although I suppose if there is different plumbing leading to the two taps that that ten feet of pipe could impart its own flavor on the water.

Wait. No, I do not suppose that. The bathroom water has to taste the same. And even if it didn't, how much better would it have to be for someone to go through that much extra work to get it?

There are people who drink bottled water because they claim the tap water isn't safe.

Please. We have potable water in pretty much every part of this country.*** If drinking the water in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador didn't make me sick,**** then drinking the water in Anytown USA sure isn't going to do it.

Others say they prefer the taste of bottled water.

Posers. Usually, the people saying this are not those who live out in the country and who drink well water, which can have a strong flavor (I hated the way the water tasted on my grandparents' farm), but people who live in cities with perfectly fine water. *****

Point is that water is water and the kitchen water is NOT DIFFERENT from the bathroom water.

Which just means that I am married to a rather quirky man.

Which is fine, because it gives me material.


* I joke! "Captivity" implies a state of being held against one's will. No nastygrams, please.

** OK, we lived together and bought property together before we were married and yes, we had a lawyer review the contract to make sure that if SH dropped dead before our wedding that the house would be mine and not go to his nearest relative. It's always worth it to pay a lawyer to review a contract. We lived together because we had to wait out the six months the state of Wisconsin requires divorced people to wait before they marry. Why? Who knows? It's a stupid stupid law. If you really want people to be careful about divorcing, then make them wait six months to divorce, not to remarry. We lived together because we are too frugal to pay two rents and then there was the issue of who would get custody of the Engagement Trash Can.

*** I am not saying "every part of this country" because Milwaukee did have a little problem a few years ago.

**** OK, I didn't actually drink that water, but I did brush my teeth with it. I drank the water in Chile for two years. I've had the water in Mexico. In Morocco. Still not sick! Not sick!

***** You know I have no facts to back this up, right? I am making this all up based on a few instances in my life. But I bet I'm right.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 610: Fashion forward


I want to talk about something very important today and that is fashion and color.

What is it with the obsession with drab as the proper clothes for dining in a nice restaurant?

OK, maybe not an obsession but it is what I saw Saturday night when SH and I went out for our anniversary dinner.

We had a style challenge: we were going to be spending the afternoon traipsing around town for Doors Open Milwaukee, which was an event where the public could go inside a lot of historical buildings.

Then we were going to a 4 p.m. play. Then dinner at a nice restaurant (the kind with white tablecloths and a sommelier).

Additional challenge: It was rainy and cool and certain to be cooler downtown, as it is almost always cooler by the lake.

How does one dress for rainy, cool weather where one walks a lot because downtown parking is not easy to find (free downtown parking - on principle, SH is not going to pay to park if there is a free space somewhere and for the most part, I support him on this, although it does depend on which shoes I am wearing) and for an afternoon at the theater followed by an evening at a nice restaurant?

I will tell you what one does not wear.

As much as one wants to wear and seeks opportunities to wear one's teal leopard-print heels with the tangerine ribbon, one does not wear them.

1. They are made with a suede-type material and
2. They have high heels. The longest distance I walk in heels these days is about ten yards. I used to spend all day in heels. I don't know what's happened to me. My feet don't put up with as much as they used to. I have read that as we age, we lose fat in our feet. Great. The one place (or one of two places) where I actually want and need fat and that's where it disappears from.

One also does not wear the sleeveless silk dress that one was originally planning to wear to dinner because sleeveless silk + cold + rain = Very Bad Idea. Even with a coat.

One wears a nice dress that is not too dressy for day but not too casual for evening. Or so I thought. One wears flat boots because one can walk in boots. One wears a tangerine pashmina shawl.

One's husband wears khakis, a white shirt with light orange stripes, and a light tangerine sweater with a diamond pattern knitted into the front.

This works for the historical buildings. It works for the play, where there are folks in jeans and sweatshirts.

Yes the obvious question becomes why am I concerned about style in Milwaukee, a city not exactly known for fashion (there are still people who have mullets here, just in time for the mullet's comeback), where a Packers sweatshirt is considered appropriate for the theater. Or a Brewers sweatshirt. In comparison, SH and I are practically Vogue ready.

But at the restaurant, we stood out. SH in his tangerine sweater, me in my tangerine shawl because of course it was freezing inside the restaurant. I will never be warm again as long as I live here.

Everyone else was in black or gray or brown or cream. Muted. Toned done. No color. The restaurant was decorated with black and steel and gray. No color.

It didn't help that there was a table full of Greek orthodox priests sitting behind SH, making the contrast even more stark.

We were the one bright spot in the restaurant. The only peacocks. Were we wrong? Or are we trendsetters?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Germany 11: Drugs

One of my missions when we were in Germany was to replenish my stash of Retin-A, the facial gel that I am hoping will undo the sun damage I inflicted upon my skin in my stupid youth. I have been an avid sunblock and hat wearer since I was 30, but those teen years were deadly and made even worse by the fact that I looked really good with a tan.

Plus tans were fashionable back then. I don't think anyone tries to get that super dark, almost leather tan any more these days (I didn't have that kind - I was just golden), although the woman who works at the garden store where I throw away more money than I would on heroin looks like an 80 year old sailor by August each year. People whose ancestors come from northern countries should wear sunblock.

I could get Retin-A in the US, but I would need a prescription and it costs about $80 a tube. Yes, women will pay a lot of money for the promise of youthful, dewy skin. Hope in a tube. I didn't want to pay $80 and I sure didn't want to waste my doctor's time with an office visit to request something simply to satisfy my vanity.

I walked into the first pharmacy I saw. Oh, I am sorry, the pharmacist said. You must have prescription.


Yeah. That's what they told me in France when I asked for codeine ten years ago. At the time, that was the only drug that came close to getting rid of my headaches, but it was difficult to get from my doc because the DEA breathes down doctors' necks about narcotics.

Which is stupid. Doctors are afraid to prescribe painkillers for people who really need them because the DEA will come after them if they prescribe to addicts. So we make this tradeoff: people who are in serious pain do not get pain relief just so addicts can't have their drugs? Do I care about the addicts? Do I care if they take drugs? No I do not. If they want to ruin their own lives, let them. That's their problem. Those people who truly need pain relief should not be denied because of the junkies.

In France, the first response would be no, not without a prescription, but if I asked again, they would say, Oh well, fine. Here's your codeine.

The French, they are not so concerned with the rules mandated by The Man. The quintessential view of the French character was in a photo I took once (and of course cannot find now) of a Frenchman sitting under a "No Smoking" sign. And smoking. Nobody is going to tell the French what to do. Nobody.

I thought, If I can get narcotics without a prescription in Europe, a facial cream ought to be a piece of cake. I just need to find the right pharmacist.

Ha. I forgot where I was.

This is the country where even when there is no traffic coming from either side for a mile late at night, people wait for the "walk" signal. No jaywalking. No crossing against the light. SH was concerned I was going to be arrested because I kept losing my patience with the long traffic signals and would cross when the road was clear, even though the light said NO! The Germans standing on the curb would shake their heads sadly and click their tongues in disapproval at me. The sign says NO! You have to follow the sign!

Germany is a country of Rules. People there follow the rules. In most cases, this is a good thing. Who wants to live in anarchy and chaos where people are spitting and urinating everywhere?*

But when I want an exception to a pharmacy rule? So I can get Retin-A for $20 instead of $80? Then I want some flexibility. Then I want some civil disobedience. Then I want a complete change in national character. But it was not to be. I went to five different pharmacies and got the same answer every time: It is necessary to have a prescription.

It's their fault if I start to look old.




* In Germany's defense, I did not see signs forbidding either of these activities in public places. I have, however, seen those signs in South America. You shall know a culture by what is forbidden.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 622: Misery demands company


This is how sickness works chez nous.

When I get sick, which is almost never, because I get enough rest and eat a fairly healthful diet, although I sometimes get a little too much of the CH group, so my immune system is usually strong enough to fight whatever is always lingering around us - other peoples' germs, waiting for a chance to invade, I throw whatever drugs I have at the problem. Why suffer? is my motto. Yes, I know I will not heal any faster if I take sudafed, but at least I'll be able to breathe while I sleep.

SH, on the other hand, refuses to surrender. He will not fight a cold or a cough with pharmaceuticals. Not him. That's letting the terrorists win.

He also gets sick more frequently than I. I sure can't figure that one out. Isn't staying up until 4 a.m., snacking on Dill Pickle Pringles all night, and then getting up at 9 a.m. a perfectly healthy way to live?

When SH gets sick, everyone is going to suffer. Even if everyone isn't sick.

Here is how the pharmaceutical conversation goes.

Day 1
Me: Would you like some sudafed/cough medicine/anithistimine?

SH: No! You know I don't like taking that stuff.

Day 2, as SH is more miserable

Me: Sudafed/cough medicine/anithistimine?

SH: No!!! Besides, you know sudafed will keep me up.

Day 3, after SH gasped and snored his way through the night

Me: Maybe I should go to Walgreen's and get some kind of nighttime decongestant. Just in case you want it.

SH: No. I'm taking megadoses of garlic. That will heal me. Modern science can do nothing for me. I prefer medieval superstition. [OK, he didn't say any of those words past "garlic," but that's the sense.]

Me: But how about if I just leave the sudafed on the bathroom counter in case you change your mind?

SH: I'm not taking it.

Day 4 and yes I mean day, not night

5:00 a.m. SH awakes. Can't go back to sleep because he can't breathe. I am awake, too.

5:15 a.m. Still awake.

5:30 a.m. Still awake.

5:45 a.m. Still awake

6:00 a.m. Still awake

6:23 a.m. I finally say, "Do you think you might want some sudafed? So you can breathe?"

SH: Maybe.

Me: You don't know where it is, do you?

SH: No.

Me: I have to get it, don't I?

SH: Yes.

I find it. He falls asleep again until 10. I get up at 7.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 612: The operating system won't support that upgrade


SH: If only you liked to stay up late.

Me: If only.

SH: And go to political rallies.

Me: If only.

SH: And go out to bars.

Me: If only.

SH: And drink wine and beer.

Me: If only.

SH: We don't have anything in common.

Me: Nope.

SH: [sigh]

Me: Maybe you need to trade me in for Wife 3.0.

SH: But I like your cooking!

Me: I am a good cook.

SH: And I like the way you kiss.

Me: There is that.

SH: I don't want to lose those things.

Me: Maybe you could put that in the specs: "Must be able to cook and kiss."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 512: How a Terminator Engineer handles T-Mobile customer service

I do not have much a temper. Oh sure, I rant and rail at the internet, but when I am angry at someone, I am calm and I seethe, but I try to get what I want with logic. I don't yell because what if that person gets angry back at me? That would be bad. I can't bear to have someone angry at me.

Usually, I get what I want with the nice, logical, you done me wrong approach, but sometimes, it fail. Sometimes, I hit a brick wall and there is nothing I can do and that is when I have to resort to writing a strongly-worded letter and crossing my fingers.

Here's what happened. We got our T-Mobile bill today. When we were in Germany, we were very careful to tell our phones No! NO! Do not connect! NO ROAMING! NO ROAMING, I TELL YOU!

The irony, of course, is that I cannot get a phone signal with my T-MOBILE PHONE just three miles from my house, much less a data connection. But put me in the Amsterdam airport or anywhere in Munich and my phone is chomping at the bit, ready to make that connection. At about $40 million dollars a gigabyte.

SH and I had decided to communicate by text while we were in Germany. No phone calls. No emails. Just text. So I had turn on my phone occasionally. Every time I turned on the phone, I got a warning that data roaming would incur significant charges and did I want that.

NO! I would say. NONONO!

We got the bill today.

$13 of roaming charges plus $1.50 for a phone call to voicemail that I did not make and did not show in my phone log.

I contacted customer service via their online chat.

I won't show you the entire transcript, but will give you the essence of the conversation:

Me: But I was very careful to decline data roaming every time I turned on my phone.

CSR: We can’t guarantee that your phone won’t roam even if you have roaming turned off.

Yes, that is correct. Even if I have roaming turned off, they cannot guarantee my phone won't roam, which means I will still be charged.

The CSR was unyielding. I had declined roaming. The phone had still roamed. She would not remove the charges.

I had started to compose a strongly-worded letter to the head of marketing for T-Mobile when SH asked what was going on.

SH believes in taking immediate action on certain things. When his honor has been violated, when we have been done wrong, he does not take it lying down.

I like that about him.

I also like that he can fix things.

He is a good man, SH.

He did not want to wait for me to write a strongly-worded letter.

"Give me that," he said, taking the bill, as he marched upstairs.

I tiptoed into the hall and opened the door so I could eavesdrop on his call to T-Mobile.

SH does not hesitate to raise his voice.

He is my instrument. When I need to be mad at someone, he does it for me.

He did a fine job, barely suppressing his disbelieving anger at the customer service rep, who, bless his heart, was not responsible for the crummy engineering that allows the T-Mobile phones to roam even when instructed not to.

T-Mobile, if you are reading this and I hope you are, this is what you get for working your engineers in the US 80 hours a week and for outsourcing the rest of them. You get what you pay for. You think engineers won't unionize? It could happen and then where would you be? You better start being nicer to your employees and to your customers.

The CSR told SH that yes, the phones roam even when told not to and what can one do?

SH asked the CSR if T-Mobile was prepared to lose a customer over $13 because that's exactly what was going to happen because now it was a matter of principle.

SH is actually a rather easy going guy and extremely generous ($13 is not a big deal), but when he decides to dig in his heels, he will not move. It rarely happens, but when he takes a stand, he is immutable.

The CSR must have sensed that, because he actually yielded.

Yes. What I had been unable to accomplish in half an hour with Kelly M, the online CSR, SH did in five minutes on the phone.

He is my $13 hero.

That doesn't mean we won't cancel T-Mobile as soon as our contract is up, though. They have really crummy service in Wisconsin.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Germany 10: Trains, thirst and chocolate, or, Stay thirsty, my friends


On Saturday, our last full day in Germany, SH and I took the train out to Andechs, a brewery and monastery about an hour from Munich. The train took us to a town from where we walked about five km up a hill to the monastery, which I did just fine in my sandals but which would have been unbearable in my cowboy boots, which sorely betrayed me this trip. They feel so good when I put them on but it was a lie, a lie I tell you. That cushioning I felt was all a lie because in the end, those boots pulled out the knives and started slashing my feet. The sandals actually provided more support. After five km up and five km down, I had blisters, but my feet still did not hurt in that razor blade way that I think we all know.

But that is not the point of this story. What I really want to talk about is train delays.

Almost everything we encountered in Germany happened on time. Our tour of the BMW plant started at noon. Exactly. The hostess did not say, "Let's wait a minute to see if anyone else shows up." Nope. It was noon. The tour started at noon. She started. She did not wait. She did not punish those of us who were on time by making us wait for the latecomers.

I loved her.

I hate being forced to wait for latecomers.

Why bother to show up on time if you are going to have to wait for the people who are late? Why should those who are doing it wrong be rewarded?

The Germans have the right attitude.

The trains and the metro run on time. They have schedules. This is when this train leaves. This is when that train leaves. You can count on it. You can plan on it.


When we planned to take the 4:24 train back to Munich, we knew that was carved in stone.

We knew that we should not linger at the biergarten to watch the band sing "Bad Moon Rising" and should instead march our butts to the bahnhof to catch the train, not even stopping to get water even though we were thirsty from our five km walk down the hill.

Very thirsty.

Actually, this is not a post about train delays but a post about thirst and about SH's paranoia.

We were late. We saw the train waiting. We started running. A German couple said something to us that I did not understand as I do not speak German - even though the guy at passport control as we were leaving Munich said I look German and have a German surname and I should speak German and why don't I? - but their body language seemed to be saying, Don't bother. The train is late.

But we kept running because the trains ran only every 20 minutes and we didn't want to wait another 20 minutes. We had things to do back in Munich that evening.

When we got to the station, we discovered the train was not moving. Had not moved for an hour. Was not going to move. We (=I, as SH would rather die than ask a stranger a question that shows SH's ignorance) kept asking various people if they spoke English so we could get an interpretation of the announcements. Finally found someone who explained that there was something wrong on the tracks further down the line. The rumor was that they were going to put us on buses, so everyone moved toward the street.

Two minutes later, everyone started moving back toward the train and getting on the train. Figuring they must know something, we followed. Then we saw that the departure board was showing that the train would leave in nine minutes, which would get the train back on schedule.

We didn't know if we should believe it.

We finally decided, after two minutes, that we should.

In the half hour that we had wandered frantically around the platform, trying to figure out what was going on, I had gone to to the ladies' and filled and drained my water bottle twice, so I was no longer thirsty.

SH had not taken advantage of the time to do the same thing.

And he would not drink from my bottle because I had developed a sore throat.

He had gotten a cold and I had gotten a sore throat that just that day I had idly speculated might be strep throat. Which I have not had since I was eight.

With seven minutes to departure, we decided SH should try to buy some water of his own because he would not drink from my bottle. He ran to the station. Did not return. Did not return. Did not return.

I was nervous. What was my Plan B if the train started to leave and he wasn't on it? I hate these situations.

Fortunately, he returned.

Unfortunately, he had no water.

Why not?

He couldn't find any.

But I saw several people coming from that little bar with bottles of water!


He didn't try there.

Why not?

Because he didn't want to ask.

Why not?

Because he didn't want to ask! What if the person thought he was stupid? He didn't know how to say "water" in German!

But why not just try?

He didn't want to sound stupid.

I guess you just weren't thirsty enough.

At 5:04, the regular departure time, we finally left.

When we got to the next station, we were delayed again to wait for the oncoming train.

Train logistics stuff. You know - one track, two trains, potential Lifetime movie.

A word about German weather, air conditioning and trains.

I don't know what German weather is usually like, but I do know this: most of the buildings I was in had windows that opened and did not have air conditioning, which would lead me to believe that it does not get too hot in Munich or that Germans are a lot tougher than Americans or both. If it does get warm, it appears that the German solution is to open a window - they had the windows open at the Deutsches Museum - rather than crank the a/c. Which, as I noted, they do not have.

The train had windows that would appear to open, but only with a key. They were closed.

So. Closed windows. Crowded train. Five missed departures' worth of passengers crowded into one train.

And it was over 80 degrees, which is not horribly warm to us in the US, but I think might be warm for northern Europe.

The train was sweltering. I was pouring sweat. I don't usually sweat. Mostly because I hardly ever exercise enough to sweat and because I no longer live in a warm climate.

But I was sweating. So much sweat that the three bottles of water that I had drunk in the past three hours HAD NOT CAUSED ME TO PEE ONCE.

SH, who, as you remember, was not thirsty enough to ask for water in a language he does not speak, was parched.

"I have water," I told him, as I dangled the bottle in front of him.

He recoiled in horror. "I can't get sick! That bottle is disgusting! It's like a petri dish of germs! Your strep has been incubating in there for days!"

I shrugged. "Up to you."

Another fifteen minutes passed. We would start and stop and wait. The two girls across the aisle from us played a listless game of gin rummy. The older lady next to us heaved deep sighs of frustration. The man across from me tried to keep his bicycle from knocking into me and talked sports with the three men standing behind him. Probably sports. They probably weren't talking about all the great deals they were getting on amazon.com with the strong euro.

SH slid further down the seat. He wasn't even sweating any more. No more fluids in his body. His eyes started to sink into his head. We weren't even halfway to Munich yet.

I offered the water again.

"No!" he whispered weakly as he waved the cootie-laden bottle away from him.

"But yesterday we shared a gelato" I said.

You didn't say anything about strep then," he snapped, as much as a person can snap when he is weak from dehydration. "Plus there is no reason to increase my exposure."

"OK."

He got quieter and quieter and wasn't even whining which is how I knew he truly felt crummy. A silent SH is a sick SH.

The girls across from us stopped playing cards and leaned their heads against the window. The bicycle guy fell silent. The older lady sighed, but not so loudly.

Forty minutes in and we still had five stops to go.


The train stopped. SH looked up. "Get off here," he said. "I have to get some water and we're at a stop served by other lines. We can take another train in a few minutes."

We jumped off the train and took the escalator down because we were that tired and lazy. If you are a healthy person who is not carrying anything, there is almost no reason ever to take an escalator down. SH almost always takes the stairs, even when he is carrying luggage. Maybe he should carry weights up and down the stairs with him when he is getting the dill pickle Pringles hidden in the basement.

In every train station we saw in Germany, except for the one where we were delayed, there were convenience stores and bakeries and snack shops. Places to get food. Because when people are on the train, they are bored and they want to eat.

The station where we left the train?

They were doing construction.

The place was ripped to shreds and most of the shops were gone except for a place you make bets and a falafel place that had bottles of soda on the counter. No water visible. Our train left in seven minutes. There was a woman paying for her two falafel with pennies that she was counting out one by one. SH did not want to wait and said it wouldn't matter anyhow because look, it was only soda, not water.

We trudged out of the station and looked for a convenience store on the street. Dry cleaner. Toy store. Gelato/espresso shop. We decided the gelato shop was the best bet. Again, we were stuck in line behind a slow decider who just didn't know which flavor he wanted and oh! yes! an espresso as well! and what? you want me to pay now? OK, I'll get out my wallet.

I wanted to scream at him. That baloney makes me nuts even when I am not in a hurry.

Finally, it was our turn. I asked for water because SH would not.

Nope. No water. I saw plastic cups on the counter in back next to the coffee machine, but knew there was no chance of getting a glass of tap water given the German attitude toward such.

SH decided that a chocolate gelato might tide him over until he found something more fluid.

We returned to the train station, SH licking his cone, me eying it hungrily. I knew he wouldn't share it with me because of the strep situation but I assumed he would save the very last of it for me.

I couldn't believe the falafel guy would have soda but not water. We walked past his shop and I stopped. "I'm asking," I told SH, who was appalled.

"Do you have water?" I asked.

Yes, I said it in English, but in German, the word for "water" is "wasser," so it's not such a stretch.

The man nodded. I held up one finger. He reached beneath the counter.

"Wait!" SH said.

"Wait why?" I asked.

"How much? I want to know how much it costs!"

"Does it matter?" I asked.

"Of course it matters!"

This from the man who thinks nothing of spending $5 on a beer when he isn't even thirsty.

I rolled my eyes. "How much?" I asked the man.

One euro fifty, he said.

SH decided that he was thirsty enough to pay that amount. I held the gelato while he drank the entire bottle in one swallow, then handed the cone back to him. His face started to look better. He perked up. Could have been the water, could have been the chocolate.

Then, as I gasped in dismay, he popped the last bit of the cone into his mouth.

His suffering had become mine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Germany 9: Getting on the wrong coach


Saturday evening, we changed from a hotel in central Munich to one in Freising, closer to the airport, which is about an hour away from downtown. Who wants to spend an extra hour getting to the airport for an early-morning flight? Not me. I'd rather sleep an extra hour.

We retrieved our bags from the old hotel - the one that didn't have a mirror over the bed but did have mood lights on the headboard that changed from orange to green, both of which are just the shades you want bathing your nekkid body. Whose skin doesn't look good with green light shining on it? It was the perfect shade for the someone with a lizard fetish. Which neither of us have.

This hotel - Fleming Hotel - is very stylish. We stayed there last time we were in Munich. Each person gets his own comforter, which solves those nighttime covers fighting issues. The pillows are awful (way too soft but then, at least they are not those hard as rock bolsters that the French and Spanish use), but when you come in to the room for the first time, you see each pillow squished in the middle with a perfect dent. The comforters are folded perfectly into thirds. The green lights are on to go with the white plate on the nightstand holding three green apples.

The shower? Go here to see. This is the perfect setup if you want to watch someone else bathe.

We had planned to take the 7:04 train to Freising, but then SH hauled out the trusty computer to check the schedules one last time and found that there was an express train at 6:44 that would take only 20 minutes to get there as compared to the 40 minute journey with the 7:04 local.

A word about computers and internet and smartypants phone where we pay a lot of money to be able to get online with our phones.

T-Mobile, I hate you and your stupid roaming charges and your crummy connectivity.

Please explain to me why I cannot make a phone call from the YMCA three miles from my house, much less check my email to see if my books are in at the library, but why I have to fight to keep my phone from connecting in Munich.

Every time I would turn on my phone - SH and I had decided that texting each other was the least expensive way to communicate, even though we both hate texting and if someone besides SH sends me a text, I will not answer, so my friends who are reading this, if you have something important to tell me, send me an email or call do not text - I would have to say, No! NO! Do not connect! Do not incur extra charges of I don't know how much because all you say is that I could incur "significant" roaming charges and there is no way for me to know how much "significant" is without going online and checking with you and even then, I can't trust what you say.

Yet when I'm at home and see that whitefish is on sale for $4.99 a lb and I want to call SH to see if he's gotten the steak out of the freezer yet because if he hasn't, I'm going to buy the fish, I cannot get a darn signal.

T-Mobile was like Laverne, yanking at the leash to get outside, dying, DYING to connect in Germany but when I want it to connect? When I need it to connect?

Nada.

I cannot get a signal to save my life. Some day, when I am at Sendik's and the old lady blocking me from the produce bargain counter has dropped from a stroke and I am trying to call 911, I will not be able to because T-Mobile will not give me a signal and it will be their fault that she dies. I hope they can live with themselves after that.

Where was I? Right. At the computer. Because SH couldn't just use his smartypants phone because that would have cost about $40 million in roaming fees. Which meant he had get out and then repack his computer and get all situated and by then it was 6:32, which meant we had only 12 minutes to get to the train.

Not impossible: we were two blocks from the train station. But we were handicapped with luggage (remember that I way overpacked, plus I now had chocolate and coasters in my suitcase) and the train station was crowded.

Why? Because the Munich soccer team, which apparently has red as its team color, had just finished a huge match, and armies of singing, red-jerseyed men carrying coolers of beer were marching through the station. One of them was even wearing the Munich equivalent of a cheesehead: a beer stein foam hat.

I have scoured the internet trying to find a photo of this Glamor Do, but have not been able to find it. I would have taken a photo myself, but my hands were not free because I was pulling my large pink suitcase and carrying a computer bag and a purse and my hat.

We weaved our way through the either celebrating or commiserating fans. I speak no German except "Danke" and "Bitte," so I don't know if they were singing songs of victory or sorrow.

We were seeking Platform 26. I had a vague idea of where Platform 26 was located, as I had been sent on a wild goose chase to Platform 26/Platform 33/Platform 36 on my trip to Regensburg a few days before.

"Follow me!" I told SH confidently.

He hates following me.

He hates it when I am in charge.

He wants to be the one in charge.

All the time.

Which I don't usually care about as long as his in-chargeness is done efficiently and ruthlessly.

(Although really, I think I should be in charge of everything. I am just better of letting go of my inner dictator than SH is.)

Which it usually isn't, as SH is very deliberative in everything he does.

He almost never makes a mistake and does almost everything perfectly, which is good for putting that compound in the shower between the tub and the tiles, but sometimes, it is better to be 95% correct, as in, sometimes, it is better to spend only 17 seconds than four minutes choosing bacon. Must we look at every single package of Cudahy bacon to optimize 1. the expiration date (it's cured meat, for pete's sake) and 2. the lean/fat ratio to both our satisfaction, as I would prefer no fat at all and he would like almost all fat?

SH thinks I rush things and that I make mistakes, or at least that I make suboptimal choices, but I get things done. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good is what I say. I don't take seven hours to buy groceries.

I found Platform 26. The clock next to the sign proclaiming "Platform 26" was broken, so I didn't know what time it was. I looked into the coach. Asked the people, "Freisin?"

Which was not the right name.

"Freising," they answered.

"This is it," I announced to SH. "Come on."

I threw my big pink Lands End suitcase that SH mocks in but I can always see my bag on in luggage claim and climbed aboard. It was crowded. I had to haul the bag up against the far end near the door. All the seats were taken and the standing room was full of people and their luggage. SH was stuck in the middle of the standing room with nothing to hold on to.

"Come over here!" I said. He didn't want to.

The train started. He swayed. Grabbed his bags. "We should have found a less crowded coach!" he hissed.

"But the train was about to leave!" I said.

"No it wasn't," he said.

"But I didn't know. The clock is broken," I answered.

"You always do this! You just barge ahead and make decisions without consulting me!"

"But the train was crowded! And about to leave!"

"We could have found someplace better."

"Then why didn't you say something?"

"Because you were already on!"

"Whatever," I said. SH gets cranky sometimes.

What he wanted, I assumed, was for us to march up and down Platform 26, evaluate the state of each coach and pick the perfect coach based on 1. the number of people in each coach, 2. the amount of luggage and floor space in each coach, 3. the number of available seats, 4. the ease of getting into each coach- not all of the coaches were at platform level, as ours was - some required lifting one's bags up four steps, 5. the body fragrances in each coach - it was a very warm day and 6. any other factors to be determined as we marched.

We would have had 90 seconds to do all of this.

I love my husband. He is the perfect person for any detailed analysis or project that does not have a deadline.

But sometimes, things just have to be done, perfectly or otherwise.

The man next to us said, in heavily accented English, "It is crowded all over the train. All the people are going to home from the football game."

"See!" I said triumphantly.

Then the man's wife stepped away from the wall next to her bag. "Please. You put your bag here."

SH said, "No. I'm fine."

Sometimes he can be a martyr.

"No. I will not let you," she insisted. "You must to put your bag here."

SH wanted to be mad at me for picking the wrong coach, but there wouldn't have been a better option, at least if this man was telling the truth and why would he lie to us? Plus now these nice people were letting him put his luggage against the wall, thus solving the problem but eliminating the excuse for a good sulk.

The next time, he can find us the train and if we don't find it in time and have to take the 7:04 local, I guess I can blame him and I can be the sulker.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 1: One year closer to the bellybutton


Me: What should we do to celebrate?

SH: I don't know.

Me: We could have some cake.

SH: Chocolate.

Me: I could bake this cake.

SH: That would be good.

Me: But that's a lot of work. [pause] Maybe I could just buy a slice of cake at the bakery.

SH: We could put the air conditioner away.

Me: You're so romantic. That's what I love about you.

SH: Maybe I could take a shower.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Marriage 401, Lecture 621: The cheese stands alone


SH: Why were you yelling at Laverne?

Me: Because she was drinking the salt water I had made for the mozzarella cheese.*

SH: Did you change the water?

Me [long pause]: Are you just asking me if I put the cheese in the same water that our cat, who licks her butt, was drinking?

SH [laughing]: Never mind.



* It seems to keep the fresh mozzarella from going bad so quickly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Marriage 301, Lecture 634: Better to be thought a fool


Me: What does "MwSt" mean here?

SH: I don't know.

Me: Are you going to ask the waiter?

SH: No.

Me: Why not?

SH: Because I don't want to look stupid.

Me: How is it stupid to ask about something in a foreign language in a foreign country?

SH: I don't want to. I should know what it means. I should have done my research before we came to the restaurant so I would know what's on the bill and how tipping is done.

Me: Who would think you're stupid?

SH: The waiter.

Me: You mean the waiter who will never see us again? That waiter?

SH: Yes.

Me: What if it means "tip" and then you tip him again? Then he would think you're stupid and you would have wasted money.

SH: [no response]

Me: You didn't think of it that way, did you? Would you rather look stupid and waste money or look stupid and not waste money?

SH: I dunno.

Me [to the waiter, who has returned with the credit card thingie to sign]: What does MwSt" mean?

Waiter: It is the money for the state - for the tax.

Me [triumpant]: See?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Marriage 301, Lecture 620: Water bottle pot, meet beer coaster kettle


SH: Wait! Don't throw that away!

Me: We have plenty of water bottles.

SH: Yeah, but that one is from Munich. Look! It has German writing on it.

Me: You are such a snob.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Germany 8: I know what meat is

Our flight home was not as nice as the flight over, "nice" being a relative term, of course, as nine hours in an airplane is never my first choice and even if I get to spend it in business class thanks to a last-minute fare cut and FF miles, it's still nine cramped hours in a seat designed for someone four inches taller than I am.

But on the way back, we were both in coach. We have gotten quite spoiled by our recent trips in business class. At least, I have. SH pays for those trips by logging many many miles in coach. But I am finally living the life to which I would like to be accustomed and being yanked back to reality is no fun.

Quick aside: Business class is nice. But what would really be nice is my own plane.

When I was in the Junior League, I wrote an article for the JL magazine about a woman who had some connection with the JL. She and her husband owned a couple dozen fast-food franchises scattered around the south in small towns. Given the difficulty of traveling to the stores, they had purchased their own plane. It paid for itself with the time savings.

When she told me about the plane, she spoke in a tone of disbelief - that she actually had her own plane.

It's so great! she told me. We don't even have to go through security! And the seats are comfortable, even for me - I'm short!

There was no bragging, no ennui, no, "Oh you peasant you must fly coach with all the other ordinary people." No, she thought it was cool and I thought it was cool and I put something about it in the story.

The president of the JL cut that part out. She didn't like the woman I had interviewed and didn't like that she had a plane. The official word was that she thought it sounded snobbish, but it didn't at all. The JL president was just being a pain. Who wouldn't want her own plane? And who wouldn't be thrilled to have it?

But I travel coach except for those lucky times when I get to travel business class. We had a long flight back. In coach. SH and I weren't even sitting together. I was tired. We got off the plane in Atlanta. Had to wait for our luggage so we could re-check it to Milwaukee. Homeland security, is that really necessary? Do you not make our lives complicated enough?

As we were waiting, the USDA agent (I assume she was USDA) came with the sniffer beagle. He came up to us and stopped next to the carry on bag of the man waiting with us.

The beagle had found a banana.

What a good dog.

It was a legit banana. The man was a soldier coming from Germany to a TDY in Georgia. The banana was from the commissary so it was OK to bring it into the US. I learned something new.

The beagle found nothing in our bags, probably because there was nothing to find.

SH had completed the customs form. He had declared the chocolate and mustard in a tube that I bought for my next door neighbor and he had declared my coasters. There wasn't anything else to declare or he would have declared it. SH is a very law and order type guy when it comes to submitting to petty bureaucracy. He doesn't cheat on his taxes or his expense reports (which is a good thing - I am not a fan of cheaters) and he for the most part stays in the lines.*

In 2006, when SH and I went to Spain and Morocco shortly after I had been laid off from my job and thought I would take a quick little vacation before I returned to the world of supporting myself instead of throwing myself on society's mercy, we bought about five pounds of serrano ham to bring back to the US with us.

We declared it on our customs form. Showed it to the agent when asked. And watched in shock and despair when he put it into a giant trash can.

You can't bring meat into the US, he said. I'm sorry.

We argued with him until he printed out the relevant rule.

At least eat it yourself, I told him, as we walked out of the customs area, our shoulders bowed with the grief of losing over $100 worth of serrano ham. I can't bear for it to go to waste.

Before we went back to Spain in 2008 for our honeymoon, I called the USDA. I called Customs. I emailed the USDA. I emailed Customs. Customs said sure you can bring in serrano ham for personal consumption. USDA said maybe you can depends on where it's from.

I could never get a clear, definitive answer with the intersection of the response from Customs and the response from USDA.

We decided not to risk it. We got it: no meat. Don't bring any meat from other countries into the US. Chocolate OK. Mustard OK. Meat not OK.

We were in Atlanta, going through customs/USDA. SH gave the customs form to the agent. The form, you will recall, did not include a declaration of meat.

The agent, who would not have been out of place at the McDonald's drive through line, looked at the form. Flipped it over. Read the other side. Looked at SH.

"Any meat?" she asked, unsmiling, bored.

"Nope," I answered, thinking, Can't you read?

She continued, still bored. "Any sausage, any ham?"

Sheesh. Did I look stupid? Did I look like I did not understand what the word "meat" means? "Meat" is the broad category that includes animal, mostly mammal, I suppose, flesh. Sausage is a product composed of ground meat and spices. Ham is a cut of meat from a pig. They are both meat.

I understand what meat is the same way I understand that M&Ms are a kind of chocolate. That oatmeal is a kind of cereal. That daisies are a kind of flower. Usually, people understand the general category to which a specific item belongs.

"No!" I snapped. "No meat! Not since the Great Serrano Ham Tragedy. We don't have any meat."

She stared at me, still expressionless, as SH hissed, "Shut up! What is wrong with you? Why are you giving attitude to her?"

Maybe because when I edge toward civil disobedience, I go where there are actual stakes, not just where there is a feel-good pizza party.

She blinked, then waved us through. Bitch.



* He will speed, but highway laws fall into a category where apparently, the government does not know best.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Germany 7: Leftovers


Here's a question: What do you do with your leftovers when you eat at a restaurant in a foreign country? When the exchange rate is $1.40/euro? And you know you will need to eat again the next day? And only one of you is on expense account?

Part of my meals problem was solved by the great buffet breakfast offered at our hotel(s).* The Germans, they like their breakfast and I'm right there with them. The buffet included scrambled eggs and three kinds of sausage, none of which appealed to me as the only sausage I like is my uncle's sausage and especially did not appeal to me after SH described it as "bouncy."

"Bouncy" is not a word I want used to describe my meat.

The buffet also had fruit, yogurt (full fat yogurt, I might add - which is very difficult to find in the US but tastes about a million times better than nonfat, which is why I just make my own yogurt), cold cuts, which looked nasty except for the serrano ham**, rolls, breads, pastries***, cereal, and cake.

They also had hard-boiled eggs. Which are about the world's most perfect travel food: compact, easy to eat, highly nutritious.

Every morning, I would eat my modest breakfast of yogurt, coffee, and serrano ham. I would look around to make sure nobody was watching me, then slip three hard-boiled eggs into my purse.

Yes, I know I am turning turning into that little old lady who goes to the early bird special and sweeps the sugar and ketchup packets into her purse, but part of the reason this trip was financially acceptable was that the only incremental expense would be my flight (paid for with FF miles) and my food.

The less I spent on food, the more I could spend on - on - well, nothing. Except coasters. Those hard boiled eggs paid for my coasters.

Back to the leftovers issue, though.

(And guess what? I have just redefined the hard boiled eggs as breakfast leftovers.)

SH and I have gotten into the habit of taking ziplock bags and tupperware with us when we travel. We almost always take restaurant leftovers home when we are in Milwaukee because restaurant portions are so large. We don't need to eat all that food all at once. And when we travel, we don't want to throw food away, either, especially if we have paid for it with a euro that costs $1.40.

In Paris, we were slipping our leftover quiche into a ziplock under the table. We could have asked the waiter for a box, but we did not know the customs in France and is there anything worse than being laughed at by a foreigner?

Sure there is, but SH cannot bear not to be completely correct at all times. He is very concerned about the opinions of strangers.

Me, I don't care. I don't go out of my way to offend someone from another culture, especially if I am in that person's country, and I try to respect the norms of that country, but only to a point. I won't wear a short skirt when we're in Morocco because it is not the culture and because it behooves me not to be gawked at.

Also, because my legs, they are not what they used to be. Shrug. It happens.

But letting good food go to waste because I am worried about offending a waiter I will never see again?

Don't care. Just don't care.

SH told me after the tap water debacle that asking for tap water in a German restaurant is considered gauche.

I don't care. I think paying for water when the tap water is potable is ridiculous, although I do applaud the bottled water marketing people for shaping public opinion in their favor.

Our first night in Germany, we ate out with SH's colleagues. SH ordered a carpaccio pizza with arugula, which sounds a bit precious but was absolutely delicious. He ate only half.

We both looked longingly at the remaining half. What a nice lunch that would make for me the next day. But we didn't know how restaurant leftovers are handled in Germany. Neither of us speak German. His coworkers sitting closest to us were from Algeria, Israel, and Denmark, so there was nobody to ask.

SH asked me for a ziplock. I pulled one out of my purse, then returned to listening to the guy who was telling me what was wrong with the US, even though I had not asked him.

A few minutes later, I felt something nudging my knee. A hand. I looked over at SH, hoping that the hand was attached to his arm because if it was one of his coworkers fondling my knee, that would be a real problem.

He smiled at me.

It was a love tap! A love tap that said, "I know you do not like this conversation. I know how miserable arguing with me about politics makes you and you can't even fight back with this guy. Although I tend to agree with my colleague, I feel your pain and I support you. Plus I am thinking of that mirrored bed. Even though our [wxyz] life is already smoking hot, maybe it would be fun to play around if you know what I mean."

I was comforted by his touch. My husband was thinking about me in the midst of a mildly stressful situation and he was thinking about me naked even though I had just finished a large meal and was jet lagged and puffy.

I felt a warm glow of love and desire for this wonderful man who was so sensitive to my feelings. How lucky was I to be married to him?

He nudged me again. And again. He jerked his head to the side, looked down and raised his eyebrows.

Oh! That's what he wanted! I put my hand under the table, reaching toward his so we could link fingers in love and solidarity.

I did not feel his hand. I felt a ziplock bag. A warm, mushy ziplock bag. A warm, mushy ziplock bag containing the remainder of the pizza.

Not a love nudge. Not a "Hang in there" nudge. But a, "Here's the pizza put it into your purse" nudge.

Not a romantic nudge at all.

I sighed and took the pizza. Put it into my purse. Resumed biting my cheek and smiling at SH's colleague.

The next night, at the place where I stole the beer coasters, we had a lot of leftovers. When you order German food, perhaps that's just the way it is.

A ziplock was not going to take care of roasted suckling pig and spaetzle with cheese.

"I'm going to ask the waiter for a box," I announced to SH, which caused him no end of anxiety. He hates it when I ask someone for information. Better to curse the darkness than to light a single candle is his motto.

But guess what? The waiter didn't even bat an eye. Even though he would not bring me tap water, he packaged our leftovers in a tidy aluminum box and put them in a plastic bag.

He got tipped. Despite the water thing. And because of the coaster guilt.

Later, I realized that of course in Germany they would give you your leftovers. These are my people, or at least part of my people and we are of the Tribe of We Who Do Not Waste. These are the people who made the beer that made Milwaukee great and by virtue of their German thrift, ensured that the city of Milwaukee actually ran a surplus during the Depression. These are people who would frown on food wasters and laugh at them. And that would be the worst thing.




* For financial and getting to the airport early in the morning reasons, we changed hotels twice.

** I will discuss the Great Serrano Ham Disaster of Ought Six in a future post when I tell you about the USDA in Atlanta.

*** We had already tried the pastries the day we arrived when SH was preparing for his meeting the next day and needed some coffee. I went on a hunting expedition in the hotel lobby. There was not any coffee immediately available that I could see, but then I noticed that there were conference rooms in the back. And that it was about 5:00. And the meetings were over. And what happens when a meeting is over? People leave but the catering stuff does not remove the coffee and pastries right away. Yes, I gleaned. (Thank you, Luke.) I found half a cup of coffee and a poppyseed pastry. Just enough to kick-start SH.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Germany 6: The Great Coaster Quest


I have been on a quest for a while now. Ever since SH and I met.

Wait. No. Before that.

This is a problem that predates SH. This is the eternal Coaster Problem.

Let us start with a philosophical question. I always like to define the framework of the discussion before I get into the specifics, which makes SH nuts, because he wants to pin me down on a particular issue, then generalize it to show that the Polka Dot Party is Bad. I want to argue from the general to the specific and show how the general application of a philosophy is the better action.

Here is the question.

What is the function of a coaster?

Sounds easy, I know.

The function of a coaster is to protect your furniture by keeping liquid off it.

If that's the case, why is it so hard to find a coaster that will do that?

There are lovely coasters available that will enhance your decor but will not protect your furniture. A marble coaster is pretty but liquid rolls right off it.

Let me interject something here. Those of you in dry climates are maybe scratching your head asking, What on earth is she talking about? The liquid is on the inside of the glass!

In an ideal world, yes, the liquid is contained to the inside of the glass.

In a humid, Memphis or Milwaukee world, fluids have a way of accumulating on the outside of the glass as well and then rolling down the outside of the glass where they pool on the coaster and then run onto the end table you bought for five dollars at the Salvation Army store, relieved of its gloppy yellow paint, then sanded with #140 sandpaper before covering with the sheerest coat of varnish, allowing the loveliness of the maple to glow.

Water + maple = bad.

Stated more broadly, water + wood = bad.

So why is it so hard to find a coaster that will prevent the condensation from spilling onto the furniture? I have been looking for years.

A few months ago, SH and his friend Tom came home from a tour of the old Pabst brewery. "Look!" he announced. "Coasters!"

He held up some thick paper coasters emblazoned with the Pabst logo.

"Cool!" I told him as I rubbed them between my fingers. "A coaster that will actually absorb liquid! I've been looking for something like that forever!"

He snatched the coasters out of my hand.

"Those aren't to USE!" he gasped. "They're ANTIQUES! They cost two dollars each!"

"Then shouldn't we at least get some use out of them?" I asked.

He hid his hand behind his back. "Don't touch them," he hissed.

But now I knew what I was looking for. I like to sit in the living room and read a book and have a glass of water. But I don't want to ruin my furniture. Decent absorbent coasters would solve the problem.

My first afternoon in Munich, I wandered through the Viktuelenmarkt (that may or may not be spelled right - it's a giant outdoor market/beer garden). As I wandered, I gazed around me. My gaze fell to the ground. Where I saw three paper coasters.

It was like a sign.

A sign that I was supposed to have coasters. With German beer logos on them.

I picked them up, dusted them off, and put them into my purse. Finders keepers.

That night, we ate at a biergarten. This is the place that wouldn't let me have free tap water and where there was a tip lady sitting outside of the bathroom. I had to share SH's beer even though I don't like beer just because I was thirsty and then I was supposed to pay to unload the beer that I didn't even like.

There was a stack of coasters on the table.

It was a second sign. That I was supposed to have two more German beer logo coasters.

Reader, I stole the coasters.

Yes I did. I stole the coasters. And not only did I steal two but I stole four. Then, as we were walking out of the restaurant, SH handed me two more that unbeknownst to me, he had slipped into his pocket.

Oh how sad it is to see someone slip over to the dark side and how frightening it is to know how easy it is to cross that line.

Then I had to pay. Literally. The next day, I went into a small shop with cool German stuff. Not touristy, souvenir stuff, but cool things that happened to be German. Including thick - 3/8" - felt coasters in bright colors.

Oh I hearted.

But they were 2.80 euros each, which is almost $4.20 but not quite but I don't feel like doing the math GARY.

Spending almost $4.20 apiece on coasters seemed just wrong.

I left the shop.

I walked around. I took photos. I bought lip gloss at a drugstore because I had forgotten my chapstick. I looked in a bookstore for my friend Jeff Abbott's new bestselling book. I bought three small rolls at a bakery and took one of the pizza samples, which had some very chewy, gristly bacon on it that I had to spit out after I made sure nobody was watching me. I would have put the gristle into a trash can but there were none to be seen and I could not bear to keep that stuff in my mouth.

The whole time, those coasters haunted me.

Four coasters would be about 16 dollars.

For coasters. Coasters!

But. They were German coasters. Special. They would be imported. I could brag about them. Not that I would be obviously bragging. It would be more subtle. When my book club friends would come to my house, someone would say, "Cool coasters! I've never seen a coaster like that before."

I would say, casually, "Oh those? Yeah, I picked those up the last* time I was in Munich. Would anyone like some more Memphis Junior League onion dip?"

See how that works? You just slip it in.

And then there was the fact that I had been seeking coasters for years and had been foiled over and over again.

Fine. I was going to splurge. I was going to get the coasters.

I marched back to the store. Threw down my cash because of course they would not take a credit card. The clerk carefully wrapped my cherry-red felt coasters in paper to protect them from the air and handed them to me. I slipped them into my bag and left, $16 poorer but four coasters richer.

When SH and I went to Andechs Abbey, we found more paper coasters. If that wasn't a sign that we were supposed to have German beer logo coasters, I don't know what. We had found our destiny.


* Because I go to The Continent so frequently, you know.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Germany 5: Very slight but critical underpacking


What I did not take that I usually take and that I needed:

1. Anti-itch cream, discarded at the last minute and boy did I regret that. I will not go into any more details on this one.

But let me talk a little more about German toilet paper. One commenter here, A Library Girl, noted that she carries her own toilet paper in Germany. I do that in third-world countries. I didn't think I had to do it in Germany. Perhaps next time I go, I will just buy some Charmin for our room. Dorrie said it is available.

We did have good toilet paper in the Marriott our last night (and good pillows - is that just an American thing - to have a pillow that actually keeps your head more than half an inch off the surface of the bed?*), so it for sure is available in Germany. (Although maybe Marriott flies theirs in. Which would be stupid and wasteful.)

2. Sudafed/antihistimines because you never know. SH got a cold and didn't realize until we went to bed and he put his head down on the awful pillow (Germans do many things right, but toilet paper and pillows in hotels are not among them) that once he was lying down, he could not breathe. It wasn't that he was full of mucus but that his tissues got all swollen with the pressure change.

That's scientific talk from someone who was pre-med for half a semester.

I was prepared to get dressed and find a pharmacy to get him an antihistamine (not for his sake but for mine), which he amazingly enough was willing to take**, but then I remembered that I had an Advil PM sample in my purse, which I always carry with me because sometimes when you are traveling, you have a hard time sleeping. Sometimes, it's because your husband is snoring really loudly because of a cold.

I thought, OTC sleep meds are just aspirin plus antihistamines, right?

I wasn't positive, but I was pretty sure, especially when I remembered that my friend the BRHP Ilene had noted that sometimes, a parent who might want her child to sleep on a long flight could give the kid some Benadryl, which is advice I wish more parents would take.

It won't hurt the kid and your fellow passengers on the ten-hour flight from Munich to Atlanta will surely thank you. Yes, we understand your child is only 20 months old and cannot be reasoned with and is cranky and tired and out of her usual element and schedule and we also understand that you are not happy with the situation either and are trying, but must we be the ones to suffer for it? Benadryl, honey. Benadryl. It will make your life easier.

SH took the Advil PM, which meant he was feeling really, really crummy and it actually worked. Perhaps I should not have stopped being pre-med my freshman year of college. So what that I got a D in calculus? Do doctors do integrals?

3. I guess nothing else. If you remember the previous post, you will know that I packed just about everything but the kitchen sink.



* The French and the Spanish go too far the other way. They have that silly bolster that runs the width of the bed and is as hard as a rock. Your head stays 9" higher than the mattress.

** This is SH's usual attitude about being sick:

Me: Maybe we should stop at Walgreen's and pick up some cold meds.

SH: No. I don't like taking that stuff.*** You're a hypochondriac.

Me: No I'm not. I just don't like to suffer.

SH: You're supposed to suffer when you're sick.

Me: YOU'RE supposed to suffer. I am not supposed to suffer with you. In our wedding vows, I promised "in sicker," but I did not promise to sleep in the same bed with you when you couldn't breathe and your snoring was keeping me up all night.


*** May I note for the record that although SH will rarely take that drug that would actually make him feel better - decongestants, antihistamines, aspirin, ibuprofen, he is in love with the charm and promise of various potions such as saw palmetto oil and distilled shark fin and boiled eye of newt. As my nurse practitioner sister says, he is doing nothing more than making expensive urine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Germany 4: First world panicking packer disorder


I don't want to bore you guys with my first world problems of Oh my I had to take a sudden trip to Munich and that is stressful.

But that is my world. I am very fortunate not to have real problems. I know I am lucky and I am grateful.

Side note: Those people who did the research where they discovered that first worlders get more depressed than third worlders? And they can't figure out why? How about because if your main concern every day is finding enough to eat, you don't have time to sit around feeling sorry for yourself? The women I worked with in Chile lived on subsistence farms without indoor plumbing or electricity. Their homes had dirt floors. Yet I never once heard any of them complain about their living situation or about having to bathe with ice-cold water. Maybe they just didn't whine to strangers or maybe they just got on with things.

Back to my whining.

Usually, when I go on a trip, I have a lot of notice, which gives me plenty of time to plan and make lists. I get guidebooks at the library and I figure out what I'm going to wear and what to pack. I start packing a week before departure by laying items out on the dining room table, which we use for dining only when we have company, which is not that often, which means clothes can sit there without bothering anyone.

But this time, I had about 24 hours' notice.

I panicked.

I brought everything, Just In Case.

Here is what I packed and how it was used:

One pair of jeans. Unworn.

One pair of brown slacks. Unworn

One skirt: Worn.

Two dresses. Both worn, one on the plane.

Two silky nice blouses. Unworn because turns out SH does not like how the brown spotted silky blouse looks with the brown skirt. I like it, but we were going to dinner with his co-workers, so whatever. Doesn't mean I won't wear it at home, but I am using this event the next time he wants to wear his mustard-yellow polo that I hate. NOBODY looks good in mustard yellow. Nobody. Even SH.

One light cotton pullover. Worn once.

Four t-shirts. Three unworn, one worn three days.

Running shoes and clothes. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Apparently, I learn nothing from history, which is that in all my life, I have NEVER gone running on vacation abroad. BTW, running shoes are very bulky. Without them, I probably could have brought a carry-on bag.

One pair of cowboy boots that turned out to have razor blades concealed under the insoles and a pair of black sandals which served me quite well for the five km hike up to the abbey/brewery on Saturday.

Lots of tupperware and ziplocks and two small coolers for all the cheese I was going to buy because I didn't pay attention to the exchange rate before I left and because I forgot that cheese is available in Wisconsin.

I paid attention once we arrived. Guess what? Twenty euros a kilo for Beemster goat is not such a good deal when you realize that that translates to (about, Gary, ABOUT, so no snarky comments about how 20 x $1.40 <> $30) about $30 a kilo and said cheese can be purchased from PennMac for $16/lb plus shipping, which is a little more than the German price but not enough to make it worth it to add ten pounds to your luggage.

Two purses. Yes you read that right. Two purses. Because I have a purse that is great for walking around town in a place I don't know: it's small but large enough for the basics (two pairs of glasses, wallet, handkerchief, small camera, phone, passport), it has a strap that goes across my shoulder so I don't have to hold it, and it has a flap that closes with a latch so it's hard to get into. I worry about pickpockets.

But it's not really big enough for being on the plane, when I need immediate access to a book and a bottle of water and a third pair of reading glasses. So glad I paid for those expensive bifocals. They've been worth it. Which is why I brought a purse for on the plane and one for when I am walking around town. Had I had more time to plan, I surely would have thought, Two purses! How dumb is that! I can get by with one. But - I panicked.

And then the books. Oh, the books.

One of my biggest travel fears is not that terrorists will blow up the plane but that I will run out of reading material and will be bored. I do not handle boredom well.

I took five books.

In addition, I bought a guidebook and another novel at the used bookstore at the airport. As I had five minutes allotted for this task and the owner was helping me, I did not do my due diligence.

I spend $8 on a guidebook that is 27 years old.

I know Munich is a lot older than 27 years and most of the information is probably still good, but that wasn't even the main issue. Had I bothered to spend a minute or two flipping through the guide, I would have realized that I really did not want a book that merely gave me an alphabetical listing of everything there was to see in the city with no value judgments whatsoever.

SH, however, did focus on the 27 year old issue. And if I had noticed that part, I probably would have used that as a disqualifier.

Considering I never opened the book once while we were there, other than to say, "Well this won't be a lot of help," I have to say that was a big fat waste of money. Now we are the proud owners of a useless 27-year old, $8 guide to Munich.

Of the novels, I realized 100 pages into novel #1 that I had read it before. I think. At least I had read the beginning. I started novel #2 and it was fine. Went back for #1 later in the trip and discovered I had left it on the plane. I don't know if I had actually ever finished it or if I had started it once and thought, "Wait! This is a 75 cent paperback from Goodwill! I should save it for a trip sometime!" Now I will never know how it ends. Unless I get it from the library. Which I could do.

I am not a spontaneous person. I should not do spontaneous things. I do not do them well. I had fun on this trip and I am glad I went, but my packing was a big fat FAIL.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Germany 3: The rights of woman


Peeing is a human right.

No, it's not the same kind of right as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because the right to pee does not come without some cost. True rights are the things that don't cost anyone money and don't make demands on another's toil.

The Right To Pee does require that someone spend the money to build a sewer infrastructure (or dig a hole in the ground for an outhouse), mold a toilet from ceramic and I have seen this done on my Kohler plant tour, manufacture toilet paper (GOOD toilet paper Lord have mercy this rough stuff here is not fun and that's all I'll say about that but let your imagination run wild), build a space in which the toilet can be installed and then clean and maintain said operation.

There is someone else's money involved here, which is why I can understand why some places want to charge people to use the toilet.

That is not necessarily unreasonable. If I am walking the streets of Paris and need to use the WC and the public WCs require a small payment, well, why should the French taxpayer pay higher taxes just so I can drink coffee without worry before leaving the hotel?

But.

If I am paying for a meal or a snack somewhere, then I expect free access to the facilities.

As in, at the Augustiner beer hall where SH and I had roast suckling pig, cabbage salad with bacon grease, vinegar and caraway seed dressing (this was delicious and I will try it at home - even SH, who does not usually like cabbage, liked it*) and those little noodles with a ton of cheese and bread crumbs toasted in butter plus a beer, which SH had to share with mebecause the waiter WOULD NOT GIVE ME TAP WATER,** so it wasn't even like we weren't spending any money.***

Oh madam, he said regretfully. We are out. (Of tap water? I wanted to yell. How can you be out of tap water?) But there is still water and sparkling water on the menu.

Translation: They want me to pay for it on the way in and on the way out.

Forget it. I'll hold it until I get back to the hotel, just out of spite.

Except I didn't have to: I saw a woman sitting next to the ladies' room when I walked in. I had not brought my purse - not that that would have made any difference in my decision, but it was easier to be insouciant without money on me. The two Spanish women who walked out ahead of me didn't even break stride when they saw the bathroom lady, so I thought, As go the Spaniards, so go I.

When SH went to the men's room, I instructed him to look for the bathroom lady and figure out the scoop, but he did not. He said he did not even see her, which is probably true because he tends to get very focused (Sheldon) and ignore anything besides his objective. When we were walking through the Amsterdam airport a few years ago (listen to me name drop - I don't have a fancy car or a nice career or a designer wardrobe to go on my killer body, but I can play Geography Snob with the best of them), he did not notice the woman in the desert robes with blue tattoos all over her face.

People are just shapes to be avoided, he explained. I have a mission.

So that restaurant didn't get my money.

I tried to use the bathroom at McDonald's the other day, which everyone knows is the place that every American pees, but there was a tip lady sitting in front of the bathroom there.

I tried to go to the Burger King in Regensburg yesterday. The tip lady, who was not visible when I walked in, chased me down, asking for money. Forget it! I told her. I thought I could wait until I returned to Munich or at least got on the train.

In McDonald's and BK's defense, it's not like I ever spend any money with them. Ever. Taco Bell is my poison of choice.

Then I thought about it. I have peed in train bathrooms before and it has never been a pleasant experience. Even though this is Germany and seems quite clean, did I want to risk it?

I paid.

I found the station bathroom and paid 50 euro cents, which is about 70 US cents, which might be the most I have ever paid to pee, including the time in Turkey where I had to buy a piece of toilet paper from the bathroom attendant. The TP was about as big as the lira note I gave to her, which made me think that given the price and Turkish inflation, perhaps we just should have eliminated the middleman and used money for those purposes. Plus the money was a nicer quality of paper than the toilet paper.

But then today, after I had stayed in the hotel room an extra half hour just to make sure my two cups of coffee were taken care of, ten minutes after I left and was making my way to the Deutsches Museum, I needed to go again.

No way was I paying twice in 24 hours.

I remembered the Starbucks by the Viktuelenmarkt from when SH and I were here in 2009. (Catch that? I'm good at this game.) A free bathroom. And unlike with McDonald's and BK, I have actually been a Starbucks customer many, many times. And I did not pee every time I bought coffee there, so I am definitely owed.

I found it. Did the deed. Marked the spot on my map. I'll be back to the one place that honors my rights.



* Because bacon works miracles.

** The same thing happened at the Spanish restaurant where we ate last night. They wanted money for water. I am morally opposed to paying for water at a restaurant, I told the waitress. I'll just have some beer. As I do not like beer, that means I drink very little, which is helpful because this is in the evening before bedtime and I do not need to be up at all hours peeing, but it would be nice to have a little bit of water.

*** Note to self: start taking water bottle to German restaurants.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Germany 2: BMW Mecca


Today, SH realized a dream.

Well, it might not have been his dream. I don't know what he dreams because he never wakes up and says, "You won't believe what I dreamed last night." He does not consider this to be interesting conversation, especially if I am the one who had the dream and says, "You won't believe."

My dreams - as in fantasies, not what I really dream about (I usually dream I am back in college and just discovered I have a final the next day in a class I thought I had dropped or that I am in high school and can't find my locker) - are usually things like I have been locked overnight in a bakery or I am thin and gorgeous with People to buy me clothes that look great on me and brownies and Nutella no longer have any calories.

If SH had a fantasy, it might be that he was a politician with a serious policy-making role and everyone would do it his way. Or that at least I would do things his way. Or that he got to spend a lot of time around cool cars.

I don't know. Maybe he doesn't have fantasies at all, or at least fantasies about cars. He does, however, subscribe to several car magazines and can rattle off data about any car we pass. Things I didn't even know people cared about, although I can look at a purse and tell you if it's crap or not. So maybe we aren't so different after all.

The first time we came to Munich together, two years ago, we tried to take the BMW factory tour. No luck. The tour fills up months beforehand and as SH knows only weeks beforehand when he is taking a trip, we didn't have a chance.

Still, we went to BMW Welt, which is the showroom/museum right next to the Munich BMW plant where the tour takes place, and looked around.

SH looked around. I brought my mp3 player and listened to some podcasts for an hour.

Then SH went to Germany again six months later. I tried to get him on the tour but no luck.

This time, 30 minutes after we checked into the hotel on Monday and before I had even taken a shower, I took the BMW tour phone number, took the elevator downstairs because yes I am that lazy that I cannot walk down three flights of stairs plus my feet hurt, a situation that has not improved over the past few days and made me think that it might be time to make the tradeoff between cute razor blade shoes and ugly as sin but don't hurt me shoes, and found the concierge, Maximillian.

I explained our sad tale: that we had tried and tried and had never been able to get on the tour and my German was not good enough * for me to call to ask if there were any last-minute cancellations and would he call for me.

After forcing me to make my request to him in French because I had to explain that although I do not speak German, I can speak Spanish and get by in French because I cannot bear for people to think I might not know things, Maximillian called BMW. I couldn't tell if it was a good conversation or not because German sounds kind of harsh no matter what is being said.

But when he got off the phone, he was smiling. "I told them they had to put you on the tour. HAD TO! I promised them you would buy a car."

As my jaw dropped, his eyes twinkled and he winked. "I didn't say it would be full sized. They sell little" - he spread his thumb and forefinger three inches apart - "ones there."

Then he explained that the tour was full but that SH and I were to show up at 11:00 (for the 12:00 tour) and to show the ticket people his card so we would jump to the head of the line in case there were a cancellation.

So at 11:00 we were there. The information girl had no idea who Maximillian was, but SH noticed on the tour information board that there were two places for the 12:00 tour. "Oh yes," the girl said. "They just cancelled."

Well could we have those spaces?

Sure, she said, and started typing.

SH pulled out a piece of paper. "I'm a member of the BMW club" (yes, he is) he explained. "There's a discount for club members."

I wonder what other clubs SH might be a member of. Will I find a Star Trek card in his wallet after he dies and I have to clean everything out?

So not only did we get on the tour, but we got it at a discount, which you guys know is one of my favorite things. Why pay retail is what I say.

And the tour was actually interesting, which I knew it would be. I love factories. I am a manufacturingphile. I yawned when the guide described all the different BMW cars, but loved watching the robots weld and assemble and paint.

And there was the people watching. There was a family from the Middle East - or maybe Indonesia - where the mom was wearing a head scarf. They had two little kids with them, one who had to be carried. Why you would take little kids on a tour like that I do not know. I was surprised BMW let them into the factory. There was a kid with a Justin Beiber haircut** that did not move at all when we got outside and into some very strong winds. That was some amazing hair product he found.

And at least three of the people on the tour were wearing orange tennis shoes, which appear to be quite popular over here, which made me think that they were Germans crashing the English-language tour because the German tour was full.

A word about shoes. I have already mentioned that I am considering making the tradeoff between cute and comfortable and no, I don't care what you say, it is not possible for shoes to be both, at least shoes that are comfortable for walking five miles on city sidewalks in one day. Most of the Germans I have seen made that switch a long time ago. So many things here are stylish and neat - the buildings, the fountains, the cars, the light fixtures (not the decor of our hotel room, alas, unless you like trailer park style with mirrors over the bed which I do not) - that it seems rather odd that the shoes here are so darn ugly.

However, it could be that Germans walk more and walk on cobbled sidewalks and have decided that not having your feet sliced by razor blades is more important than looking good. I guess I just don't have enough German in me to go there. Yet. But I am getting there.



* My German is good enough to figure out that "ausfahrt," which I first thought had something to do with farting but SH said no, it means exit, means exit for cars and "ausgang" means exit for people. I think. Although why you would have two words for "exit" when you could have just one, I do not know. I have picked up "bitte" and "danke" and otherwise do a lot of smiling and pointing. Perhaps it's time to learn German.

** I hate that stupid hairstyle. Every time I see it, I want to brush the kid's hair back.